By Seth Weintraub
January 6, 2011

Is the speedy dual-core CPU enough to act as a good netbook as well as a phone?

A few years ago Palm introduced the idea of using a smartphone as the brains of a netbook with their Foleo product.  The Foleo was a ARM-based netbook (though it actually pre-dated netbooks) that would sync itself with Palm Treos which would then send information to the Internet. At the time, Palm was in decline and the idea was panned by the press.  Palm, which was vulnerable at the time, scrapped the Foleo before it saw the light of day.

Fast forward to today.  Motorola (MMI) is trying the concept again with a bit of a twist.  The Foleo was a computer by itself and just synched with the Treo phone for connectivity. Motorola’s phone
the computer.  The shell is just a screen, an extra battery and a keyboard/trackpad.  It is pretty svelte, perhaps the size of a MacBook Air.

The most powerful smartphone in the world (their words, not mine) is at the helm, a dual-core Nvidia-powered Atrix (née Olympus).  When you want to browse the web on a computer, you open up the Webtop app and either dock the phone behind the netbook exoskeleton or hook up to an external monitor and keyboard via HDMI and Bluetooth/USB… and you have a ‘computer’.

Our Michael Copeland got a look at the Atrix below:

[cnnmoney-video vid=/video/technology/2011/01/06/t_tt_motorola_atrix.fortune/]

I love the idea, I’m not so sold on the execution…

First of all, the big picture:

This is basically a Chrome laptop that fits in your pocket.  This could be huge if it works like it should.  Businesses could just give these out to employees who pop them in a dock when they show up to work and again at home.   Heck, what consumer wouldn’t want something like this?

The phone itself isn’t too shabby with a qHD 960×540 pixel 4+ inch display and a huge 1,920mAh lithium-ion battery.  Even without the ability to turn into a desktop computer, it is a high end superphone.

But there are a lot of questions.

First of all, the software has to be great.  I hate Motorola’s Blur overlay and this thing looks to be packed with it.  That automatically makes this phone second tier in my book.  Also, the phone uses a full version of Firefox on the ‘webtop’. During my brief tests on Android Fennec (Firefox mobile) didn’t perform as well as well as Android’s native Webkit browser.  I have no idea why Motorola didn’t continue with Android’s Webkit here.  In fact, I wonder why Motorola is doing this system at all and not Google (GOOG). (Update: Atrix will use a full Firefox)

Secondly, this thing needs to be really fast on the desktop.  No one wants an old netbook type device that is actually a smartphone.  They want MacBook Air-type speeds.  I’ve seen dual-core ARM chips go toe to toe with the Intel Atom chips which are in most netbooks and they’ve fared pretty well.  But can Motorola pull this off?  Again, relying on their past Blur overlay software as a guide, I am really dubious.

So is this thing legit?

I haven’t played with this thing yet (no one outside of Motorola has yet) so I should reserve judgement.  Also, Motorola’s Droid Bionic is an LTE version of this phone which should be detailed tomorrow (and hopefully has less Blur).  Theoretically it should have the same capabilities as this device but on a faster network.

Engadget does a nice walk through here.

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